Order allowing Florida nursing home residents to leave for Thanksgiving sparks concern among advocates

8 On Your Side

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — We’re two days away from Thanksgiving and there are concerns that Florida is creating conditions for a perfect pandemic storm.

If you have a loved one in long-term care, you should be aware of the state’s nursing home policy for the holiday. Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order last month stating that all nursing homes let residents leave the facility, including for the holiday.

Nursing home advocates question what happens next, when residents come back.

“My mother can’t go anywhere,” said Janet Rock.

The Rock family knows first-hand COVID-19’s toll on nursing home residents. Janet’s 93-year-old mom lives at Freedom Square in Pinellas County.

“It’s a pretty vulnerable population,” said Rock. “That’s the demographic that needs to be tested and protected the most, I think.”

Right now, community transmission is on the rise in most of the state.

“I think that the governor’s policy is well-intentioned,” said Brian Lee, the executive director of a non-profit called Families for Better Care that advocates for nursing home residents.

The state executive order mandates all nursing homes allow residents to leave. But when they return, the facilities must only screen, not test, residents for the virus.

“With no testing at the door, it’s going to be difficult for the facilities to ascertain who has actually contracted the virus and who has not,” Lee said.

We wanted to know the policy at Freedom Square, a facility that was once the site of one of the worst outbreaks in the Tampa Bay area.

Right now, they’re doing more than the state requires by not only testing all returning residents but also placing them in an observation unit for 14 days. Janet Rock says she had to get a COVID-19 test just to enter Freedom Square.

“I appreciate it,” said Rock. “I think that’s great.”

In the meantime, Lee says he doesn’t trust all facilities will go above and beyond.

“One thing I know about this industry is that if something is not required, more often than not the facilities don’t do it,” he said.

As Lee points out, federal guidance recommend nursing home residents stay put.

Full statement from Freedom Square:

The pandemic has been one of our nation’s greatest challenges and has especially taken a toll on the nation’s nursing home residents. We are always committed to protecting the health and safety of our residents, which includes the emotional impact that separation from loved ones has caused.

While Freedom Square Health Care Center supports family engagement and a resident’s right to leave the nursing home, at this time, we strongly recommend against residents leaving the nursing home.

In the event that a resident decides to leave the facility, they will be screened, tested and placed on the observation unit for 14 days after returning from the outing to ensure that the residents of the community are not potentially exposed.

>> Follow Mahsa Saeidi on Facebook

>> Follow Mahsa Saeidi on Twitter

>> Send Investigative Reporter Mahsa Saeidi a tip

LATEST ON THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC:

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Coronavirus Need-to-Know Info

More Coronavirus

Trending Stories

get the app

News App

Weather App

Don't Miss

More Don't Miss